Rodríguez column: Plan to accelerate learning in the Roaring Fork Schools

Jesús Rodríguez

In our strategic plan, we made the commitment that “students will meet grade-level benchmarks towards graduation in core subjects.” While the COVID pandemic undoubtedly exacerbated challenges in meeting the goals adopted by the Board of Education in June 2019, in order for us to narrow the difference in achievement between subgroups of students, while elevating the achievement of all students, we must accelerate learning in the Roaring Fork Schools.

I continue to feel optimistic about our ability to fulfill our mission and prepare all students to thrive in a changing world. However, in order to accomplish this, we will need to recommit to our most effective efforts while also rethinking and innovating on those strategies that have not worked for our students. Additionally, while our educators in RFSD are hardworking, caring and talented, we need to increase the level of support for our staff to be able to do this important work in our schools.

Earlier this month, our team shared our Learning Acceleration Plan with our school community during a Board of Education meeting. The proposed plan incorporates current strategic priorities, research-based strategies, and reflects our district’s identified needs. It was developed with input from school leaders and our district instructional team to identify the root causes of our performance challenges and major disparities reflected in student achievement and growth.

The plan lays out major improvement strategies, including:

  • Ensuring that all students have access to and authentically engage with rigorous, grade level content;
  • Focusing coaching and professional development to strengthen instruction;
  • Developing and implementing a progress monitoring system that includes support and intervention for all students who need additional and different opportunities to learn; and,
  • A special emphasis on strengthening support for emerging bilingual students.

While none of these strategies are groundbreaking, per se, they are not consistently or systemically happening across our district with efficacy.

Of course, everyone wants to know where the money is coming from to support this work, and current staff want to know how they will be impacted next year and beyond. To be clear, we are still in ongoing strategic budget discussions and have not made any final decisions or specific recommendations to our Board of Education about the 2023-24 budget. We remain committed to recruiting and retaining amazing educators in all aspects of our organization, which, rightfully so, requires us to pay our employees a living wage. Thanks to community support, last spring our teachers received an average 12% raise.

With a promising budget forecast next year, we find ourselves with an opportunity to invest in additional support for our students, teachers and school leaders to not only positively impact student achievement, but to do so while addressing our teacher workload. While we cannot predict the budget in future years, the budget is always in flux and we must grow thoughtfully as an organization so as to not negatively impact our current team during leaner years.

The Learning Acceleration Plan articulates strategies and resources needed to narrow the difference in achievement between our subgroups of students and elevate the learning of all students. No doubt, if we are to commit to implementing a thorough Learning Acceleration Plan, it will be a multi-year effort and some of it will require additional financial resources to launch. Next year, the Learning Acceleration Plan will be funded in part by the $2.6 million at-risk funding from the Colorado Department of Education that we received in spring 2022, as well as by grant funding and more efficient use of existing school budgets.

In the last few weeks, we have heard questions and concerns that we are proposing hiring 40 new people and want to clarify that we are absolutely not proposing 40 new positions. Instead, the proposal largely includes expanding partially funded positions to become fully funded positions for existing positions like English Language Development, math and literacy coaches, as well as other interventionists. For next year, we are proposing approximately eight additional FTE — largely to make current part-time intervention or coaching positions full-time across the district and to potentially add new positions such as the dean of culture.

While the needs and current capacity look different at each school due to different funding streams, such as Title 1 and READ Act, we anticipate that every school will see an increase in dollars. These budget conversations are ongoing as are our consultations with school leaders about their current staffing models and needs.

We will be sharing more information with our school community in the weeks to come about the support planned for our students, teachers and schools next year.

Jesús Rodríguez is Superintendent of Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

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